Ours is a curator culture. That’s pretty clear by this point. Everyone’s doing it: not just galleries, festivals, labels, and websites like this one but, most of all, you, your sis, and the guy/gal behind this little doozy: on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Spotify, Pinterest, and all their myriad siblings and offshoots. Confronted by the information ocean, taste is the hottest commodity around. Presumably that’s why the activity of curation is increasingly being outsourced to mathematics too? Algorithms mean $$$, people! YouTube and Amazon are the paradigms here. It’s all about getting ‘relevant content’ into that sidebar. Hells yeah I like catz! And I think I’ll have that new Sound Studies Reader while I’m at it.
Not everyone’s comfortable about such developments, of course. This recent piece on Pinterest and the curatorial manufacture of desire (I’m paraphrasing!) includes the following little screed from Choire Sicha, co-editor of The Awl: “As a former actual curator, of like, actual art and whatnot,” he writes, “I think I’m fairly well positioned to say that you folks with your blog and your Tumblr and your whatever are not actually engaged in a practice of curation. Call it what you like: aggregating? Blogging? Choosing? Copyright infringing sometimes? But it’s not actually curation, or anything like it…” Ironic really, given The Awl’s own mission statement: “We believe that there is a great big Internet out there on which we all live, and that too often the curios and oddities of that Internet are ignored in favor of the most obvious and easy stories. We believe that there is an audience of intelligent readers who are poorly served by being delivered those same stories in numbing repetition to the detriment of their reading diet.”
Sicha can put the curator on a pedestal all he likes, enforcing this supposed distinction between “actual curators, of like, actual art and whatnot” and the rest, but the fact remains: The difference between such activities will always be one of degree rather than type. Etymologically, the word ‘curator’ derives from the Latin curare, meaning to ‘oversee’ or ‘care for.’ Curation is fundamentally an act of gathering, on the one hand, and of love, on the other — whatever the scale, whatever the format.
But curation is always also creation. It’s just that what’s being created here isn’t ‘content’ so much as connections. Connections matter. A compilation like this one, for instance — jointly curated by Matthew Spisbah of Melbourne label and collective Fallopian Tunes as well as the band Yolke, and Stuart Buchanan, one of the founding members of Sydney’s independent radio-station FBi 94.5 and now of the increasingly formidable New Weird Australia — is the product of a whole series of prior curatorial and connective acts. As a result, it’s about so much more than mere compilation or a ‘documentation’ of a certain strand of Australian music-making in 2012. It both evidences and is productive of a community, a culture, a ‘scene’… a scene which in turn will go on to make and curate more and hopefully better music in the future. In that sense, it matters hugely that the compilation is available as a free download; pricing here is a crucial part of a politics of accessibility. It matters hugely too that New Weird Australia has recently developed a so-called “open-source gig series” to accompany its free releases.
What kind of community is being/has been cultivated here?
Gloss & Moss is the product of a kind of Omnivorous Experimentalism that, it seems to me, is increasingly prevalent these days, not just in Australia but just about everywhere with the luxury of a broadband connection. Because the vast data sea doesn’t just need curation; it also invites exploration and exposure to the new and different. And this exploration, it turns out, is something that can be curated too.
Where some might regard the sort of eclecticism I’m getting at here as simply a lack of focus — mere ‘aggregation’ to put it in Sicha’s condescending terms — I tend to think of it as precisely the reverse. Gloss & Moss, as with so many of New Weird Australia’s releases, is focused precisely on the strange and eclectic. You could say the same about this website actually. Omnivorous Experimentalism — the capitals here are deliberate; they’re intended to suggest something like a genre — is virtually its modus operandi. It’s exactly this sort of listening/music-making practice that TMT is interested in curating/cultivating/theorizing, too.
To be specific, then, Gloss & Moss comprises 22 tracks, all by Australian artists, almost all previously unreleased, and split into two halves: one of which was curated by Mat in Melbourne (Gloss), the other by Stu in Sydney (Moss). The record’s sleeve-notes talk about “precision and imprecision — controlled chaos and chaotic control,” and that’s exactly right I think. Other than their country of origin, the one principle that ties the tracks together here seems to be their difference from each other. So Gloss & Moss — like TMT — marks no distinction between forms of instrumentation and production. It veers wildly between musique concrète (“Marble Music,” “Typewriter Demo 1A”) and wonky instrumental hip-hop (“Silverconstruct,” “Now Let’s Sing it Again,” “Perfect Burn”); noise (“Fantasy 001”) and free improv (“Bldg A Bldg”); house (“Kanalplila”), drone (“Met On A Sunday”), garage-, punk-, and post-rock (“Hyper Youth,” “Black Teeth,” “Abacus”) — but always with an unusual twist, never quite allowing themselves to settle into the stability of genre. Besides, it’s not entirely clear what genre would mean in this context, anyway. The longer you listen this way, this broadly, this inclusively, the less peculiar the juxtapositions seem to sound, the more it all begins to fit under a single heading of experimentalism. Moreover, many of the artists here are similarly ambivalent in this respect themselves, equally comfortable with beat-making as noise or indie or whatever.
Melbourne electronic artist Faux Pas (currently on tour with Gotye apparently!?) wrote the following on his blog recently: “i remember when i started putting out my own music in melbourne, i felt a little isolated. melbourne has for a long time been a great town for music and for musicians, but i remember feeling like there weren’t a lot of people around making the kind of music that i wanted to listen to. a few short years down the track, and it has changed SO MUCH.” And — in a barefaced act of curation/aggregation — he goes on to playlist a bunch of tracks released by Melbourne artists so far in 2012. Some of these are involved with Fallopian Tunes, more with This Thing. But what’s abundantly clear is that (a) the quality in nearly every case is high; (b) what is being showcased here is a wide range of broadly “experimental” artists (albeit with more of an emphasis on beats in this case); and (c) the sense of connectedness and community enabled by this kind of curational act really matters. Scenes breed scenes. And the particular kind of scenes being bred in Australia at the moment — as, I suspect, is also the case elsewhere — are increasingly omnivorous, have increasingly broad tastes and interests, and in many instances, therefore, are increasingly experimental. So much the better.